Team Alby - First trip down island

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This week at Macquarie Island: 4 December 2015

Globally, almost all albatross and petrel species are threatened. Macquarie Island provides critical breeding habitat for four species of albatross and two giant petrels, which makes the green sponge a hugely important site for the conservation of these species. Since 1994, summer expeditioners working on DPIPWE’s Conservation of Albatross and Giant Petrel Program have traversed the island slopes monitoring the survival and population trends and demographics of these six species fulfilling obligations under the national recovery plan for albatrosses and giant petrels.

The first trip out following the team’s arrival in spring each year is usually a bit epic, and this one definitely lived up to expectations! After spending over three weeks walking the island and living in the various field huts dotted around the Macca coast, we have just returned to station for a few days of rest and data consolidation before heading out again to revisit our study sites. Highlights for Kim (aside from pretty much everything!) included working with albatross and seeing the amazing Macca wildlife and, of course, so many penguins! Kris was super excited to see the regenerating tussock growth on many of the island slopes, and to be back amongst the elephant seals. We also enjoyed some fantastic assistance and company from Chris - field raining officer (FTO) - for the first ten days. 

As will be the case for the rest of the season, the majority of our time was spent at Hurd Point, the closest hut to the steep southern slopes where the wandering, grey-headed and black-browed albatross nest. The hut very quickly became home as we settled in to a nightly routine of hot drinks, hurried showers, sock washing and gear drying. In the rare moments of down-time, the big window in the hut is an incredible spot for wildlife watching with elephant seals, royal, king and gentoo penguins, giant petrels, skuas and light-mantled albatross all doing their thing literally right outside the door.

On a work front, the trip was a great success. Assisted by our trusty FTO, our first task and definitely one of the highlights was to apply identification bands to the handful of huge wandering albatross chicks that hatched last year on the southern slopes. The bands will enable these birds to be recognised if and when they return to Macquarie Island after four to five years to think about breeding themselves. 

Our main study site on Petrel Peak was also set up successfully, with every grey-headed and black-browed albatross nest mapped and described providing this season’s estimate of breeding effort to add to the long-term dataset showing population trends. This year we have also deployed a number of GPS loggers on grey-headed albatross to investigate their foraging activity during the critical incubation period. These tiny units log the position of the bird every ten minutes and we can’t wait to retrieve them to discover where our feathered friends have been travelling when not tied to the nest.

A census of nesting skuas and southern giant petrels was also conducted down south, before we began making our way slowly north towards station while setting up a number of long-term study sites for light-mantled albatross. While living and working in the field is incredible, it was great to walk back into a station full of friendly faces. That first shower, immediately followed by that first beer, was easily as good as we imagined!

So, we’re feeling pretty lucky that we get to now head out to do it all again before Christmas. Special thanks to Chris for all his help and stories on the first trip (and for keeping us safe) – we had some pretty good adventures.

Kim and Kris

Chris negotiating a jungle of drying gear in the Hurd Point hut after a particularly wet day on the slopes
Chris negotiating a jungle of drying gear in the Hurd Point hut…
(Photo: K. Carlyon)
Grey-headed and light-mantled albatross in the study area on Petrel Peak
Grey-headed and light-mantled albatross in the study area on Petrel Peak
(Photo: K. Carlyon)
A simple hut amongst grass on a hill is flanked to the left with royal penguins
Hurd Point hut - home for many an albatross researcher
(Photo: K. Carlyon)
Hurd Point sunset with a riot of colours in the sky and penguins silhouetted below
Hurd Point sunset - the view from the hut
(Photo: Kim Kliska)
Happy team (Kris, Kim and Chris on West Rock after completing work at this site
Happy team (Kris, Kim and Chris on West Rock after completing work…
(Photo: Kim Kliska)
Heading out for a day's work at Cape Star
Heading out for a day's work at Cape Star
(Photo: Chris Gallagher)
Wandering albatross chick following banding as part of long-term population monitoring
Wandering albatross chick following banding as part of long-term population monitoring
(Photo: Chris Gallagher)
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